A major funeral services firm on Friday became the third commercial firm since the start of 1997 to receive a federal thrift charter.

Hillenbrand Industries Inc. of Batesville, Ind., plans to offer trust services nationwide through a new thrift, Forethought Federal Savings Bank.

The thrift will manage funds for people who pay for funerals in advance. The so-called "pre-need funeral trusts" will be marketed through independent funeral directors and are intended as an alternative to burial insurance. Hillenbrand offers funeral planning and is the world's largest coffin manufacturer.

Also last week, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. asked regulators for permission to start up a federal thrift.

The institution would be named MetLife Bank and Trust Co. and be based in Easton, Pa. It would offer trust services to the parent company's insurance customers.

Metropolitan Life joined 20 other nonbanks seeking thrift charters, including 12 insurers. Ten nonbanks have been approved for thrift charters since the beginning of 1997, including Nationwide Insurance Enterprise, ReliaStar Financial Corp., Travelers Group, and Principal Mutual Insurance Co.

-Bill McConnell

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